Friday, June 18, 2010

Affordable housing—faster

Quail Creek developers seek to turn over land to ARCH


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Only a handful of units have been built at Quail Creek, above, next to The Meadows mobile-home community south of Ketchum. After the project was first approved, it was slowed by litigation. Photo by David N. Seelig

In a move that may enable community housing to go up faster than expected, the developer of Quail Creek, south of Ketchum, has applied to turn over part of its property to the ARCH Community Housing Trust.

The developer, Clear Creek, has applied to the Blaine County Commission for an amendment to its planned-unit development permit that would allow it to fulfill its community-housing obligation by giving 2.2 acres of land to ARCH, which would take responsibility for the housing construction. The units would be available for sale to buyers who qualify by income ceilings.

Clear Creek is also asking the board for an amendment that would reduce the number of required community housing units from 39 to 19 of the development's 126 units. That would be the number required by current ordinance, which was amended since Clear Creek obtained its original permit. The community-housing requirement is in effect whenever a developer receives a density bonus.

The revised ordinance also allows for amendment of previously approved PUD permits, and allows turnover of land to a nonprofit organization to serve as a fulfillment of the housing obligation.

If Clear Creek's amended permit is approved, the 19 units would be required to have a maximum average designation of income category 4, as established by the Blaine County Housing Authority. Clear Creek's current permit requires units for income categories 2 and 3 as well.

The Housing Authority has established 10 categories of income levels, with 1 being the lowest. Category 1 includes households with incomes that are less than 50 percent of the area median income, while category 4 refers to households with incomes of 80 to 100 percent of the median income.

ARCH Executive Director Michelle Griffith said ARCH would work closely with the Housing Authority to design the community housing to best meet needed income levels.

Griffith said that to build the units, ARCH would apply for state grants and inexpensive loans available for community housing in income categories 1, 2 and 3. Griffith said there is a waiting list for such homes, and ARCH would do its best to find buyers before construction.

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"We wouldn't build them if we didn't have buyers in mind," she said.

Any plan to change the units' number or classification would need to be approved by the county in a separate application process. Blaine County Planning and Zoning Regional Planner Jeff Adams said the board would "highly consider" any recommendations made by the Housing Authority.

Despite potential obstacles, both Griffith and Housing Authority Executive Administrator Kathy Grotto said giving construction responsibility to ARCH would enable the community housing to be completed more quickly.

Clear Creek would only be required to build community housing as other housing is sold, which Grotto said could be a long time. ARCH would be able to construct housing according to demand, which Grotto said is strong in Blaine County. A report by county planner Shana Sweitzer expressed concerns that if the rate of community housing construction is not linked to the rate of sale of market-rate homes, there is no guarantee that the community housing will be built at all.

Sweitzer recommended inclusion of a provision to ensure the housing will be built at a suitable rate if ARCH cannot secure funding or construction is otherwise delayed. Grotto said the Housing Authority would be willing to take responsibility if ARCH were unable to complete construction.

The board will hear Clear Creek's application on Tuesday, June 22, at 11 a.m. Public comment is invited.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Amendment at a glance

Clear Creek's permit amendment would include:

· Reduction of the number of required community-housing units from 39 to 19.

· Reclassification of community housing from various categories to a maximum average of category 4.

· Community housing requirement fulfilled by land conveyance to ARCH (2.2 acres).

· Relocation of community housing to the development's south end.




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